A day after Stephen Ross said all players on his team would stand for the national anthem next season, the Miami Dolphins owner tried to clarify his comments, saying he would not force players' involvement during "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Ross told the New York Daily News on Monday that "all of our players will be standing" in 2018. But in a statement released Tuesday, Ross said he believed his comments were misconstrued.
"I've shared my opinion with all our players: I'm passionate about the cause of social justice and I feel that kneeling is an ineffective tactic that alienates more people than it enlists," Ross said.
However, he said in the statement: "I have no intention of forcing our players to stand during the anthem."
Wide receiver Kenny Stills, safety Michael Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas knelt during the anthem several times during the 2017 season. Only Stills is likely to be with the Dolphins next season, as Michael Thomas is set to become a free agent later this month and Julius Thomas is likely to be released.
"Initially, I totally supported the players in what they were doing," Ross told the Daily News. "It's America, and people should be able to really speak about their choices."
But Ross told the newspaper that he felt the message being sent by kneeling players was unpatriotic and anti-military, an interpretation that was taken by President Donald Trump.
"When that message changed, and everybody was interpreting it as that was the reason, then I was against kneeling," Ross told the Daily News. "I like Donald [Trump]. I don't support everything that he says. Overall, I think he was trying to make a point, and his message became what kneeling was all about. From that standpoint, that is the way the public is interpreting it. So I think that's really incumbent upon us to adopt that. That's how, I think, the country now is interpreting the kneeling issue."
"Our union is proud of all of our players whenever they express themselves for a bigger purpose," the NFL Players Association said in a statement Tuesday. "During this past season, we received assurances from both commissioner Roger Goodell and the chairman of the the Management Council, John Mara, that the right of players to demonstrate would be protected. We are glad that both the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins have clarified their positions to be consistent with what was confirmed with our union leadership, and we expect all other NFL teams to maintain the same commitment to protecting hose rights."
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem during the 2016 season. He and other players have said they have knelt to raise awareness about racial injustice and police brutality.
In his statement to the Sun-Sentinel, Ross said he understands players care about military and law enforcement personnel.
"I've seen the same players who are fighting for social justice engaging positively with law enforcement and the military," Ross said. "I care passionately that the message of social justice resonates far and wide, and I will continue to support and fund efforts for those who fight for equality for all."
The NFL has proposed partnering with players to effect social justice change with a plan that would contribute nearly $100 million to causes considered important to African-American communities. The hope is that the league's commitment would create an environment in which players would no longer want to protest. The plan, however, has met resistance from some players, including Michael Thomas and Stills.
Last season, Dolphins coach Adam Gase had established a team rule requiring players to either stand for the anthem or stay in the tunnel, but he later told players that if they wanted to kneel, they could do so and wouldn't be punished.
Ross was in New York on Monday to be honored with the ROBIE Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jackie Robinson Foundation. On its website, the foundation recognized Ross' work in the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality to improve race relations and drive social progress.